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Maile O’Keefe wins 2 national championships, joins exclusive group of Utah greats

The University of Utah gymnast won individual titles Friday on floor and bars, becoming the seventh Red Rock to win multiple titles.

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Utah’s Maile O’Keefe competes in the floor during the NCAA women’s gymnastics championships in Fort Worth, Texas, Friday, April 16, 2021.

Matt Strasen, Associated Press

Maile O’Keefe is a national champion.

While Utah will compete as a team for a national title — what would be the program’s 11th — Saturday afternoon in Fort Worth, Texas, O’Keefe won a pair of individual titles Friday night, on floor exercise and uneven bars.

The Las Vegas native scored a a 9.9625 on floor, tying with Oklahoma’s Anastasia Webb, and then followed that with a 9.9500 on bars, tying with Cal’s Maya Bordas.

All told, only six gymnasts won individual national championships and only two of them won more than one:

  • Anastasia Webb (Oklahoma): all-around, floor and vault
  • Maile O’Keefe (Utah): bars and floor
  • Haleigh Bryant (LSU): vault
  • Luisa Blanco (Alabama): balance beam
  • Maya Bordas (Cal): bars
  • Lexi Graber (Alabama): floor

With her two national titles, O’Keefe ties MyKayla Skinner and Sue Stednitz for the fifth most in program history, behind only Elaine Alfano, Megan McCunniff (Marsden), Theresa Kulikowski and Missy Marlowe.

O’Keefe also added additional All-America honors — postseason specific honors in this case (she had already added regular season All-America accolades to what is quickly becoming a full trophy case).

She is a first-team All-American on bars and floor and a second-team All-American in the all-around. Fellow Red Rocks Cristal Isa, Emilie LeBlanc and Sydney Soloski all earned All-America honors as well, on bars (Isa and LeBlanc) and floor (Soloski).

O’Keefe’s showing against the nation’s best was simply more of the same from her. Throughout the season, she’s been far and away Utah’s best gymnast, having taken a superstar turn that led to her becoming Pac-12 Gymnast of the Year and now a national champion.

As a freshman last season, O’Keefe was good for Utah, great at times even, but nothing compared to what she has been as a sophomore. From the outside, the leap from Year 1 to Year 2 could be surprising, but Utah saw it coming.

“I think the leaps she has made as an athlete run parallel with the leaps that she has made as a human and her maturation,” Utah head coach Tom Farden said. “We have to remember that she came from the highest stage, from World Cups and the national team and winning the all-around. Then unfortunately she suffered some injuries, which were a tough on her, she came to school a year early and that is hard, a huge adjustment, and she had lost her grandmother that year.

“She was going through a lot and then got thrown into college and was really finding her footing. Now she knows what she wants and has begun to explore want she wants to do after gymnastics, which has sped up the maturation process and you can really see the result.”

Comparisons to Skinner were inevitable as O’Keefe filled the void left by Skinner when she left the program to prepare for the 2021 Olympics, but now the comparisons are also justified.

“You try to compare the athletes from one to the other and there are always traits that stick out,” Farden said. “One is intensity, and Maile and MyKayla have that. We knew that Maile was a very mentally tenacious person with significant mental force power. Another trait is a willingness to do what it takes. You have to put up with a lot to get to that level and Maile has done that.”

And become the next great Utah gymnast in the process.